Shavuot and Memorial Day.
This year they happen at the same time. What can we make of that?
Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah, the day when, as we are told, the Israelites gathered around Mount Sinai, listened to the thunder and watched the lightning, and were given and accepted what is still our most foundational text, the tie that still binds us (as frayed as occasionally it might appear).
We usher Shavuot in by studying all night, and then greeting the new light in the morning, by eating dairy rather than flesh, by glorying (at least in this latitude) in the heavily leafy branches and the dappled sunlight that comes through them, in the new flowers and perfumed air of late spring.
Memorial Day marks the sacrifice of the members of the armed forces who fought so the rest of us back home would be safe. Some of them died, some came back home wounded or haunted, some to heroes’ welcomes, some to jeers, some to nothing at all. Some of the United States’ wars were just and necessary, some more controversial, but all of the men and women who fought them, and who often came back to less-than-open-armed welcomes, deserve nothing less than our heartfelt gratitude.
Memorial Day also is inseparable from the late spring. There is no doubt irony in remembering death at the time of year when life is all around us, green and insistent, often weedy and pollen-laden and demanding, but it is important for us to remember both, and to remember them always.
We as American Jews are lucky to have both Shavuot and Memorial Day, days when memory and anticipation, great responsibility and the promise of a wide blue-skied future, our lives as Americans and our lives as Jews, come together so perfectly.